|“||I belong in this unit. And all I'm asking you for is the chance to show that.||”|
— Prentiss in "The Last Word"
Emily Prentiss is the current Unit Chief of the BAU who first joined the team two episodes after Elle Greenaway resigned from the FBI for good. At the end of Season Seven, she resigned from the BAU and accepted a position with Interpol in London. She was replaced by Alex Blake, who held the position until her own departure at the end of Season Nine. The position was then taken over by Kate Callahan for the duration of Season Ten before her own departure. She rejoined the team in Season Twelve and was then promoted to Unit Chief following the resignation of Aaron Hotchner. For a time, she was placed on administrative leave and suspension, pending an investigation by Assistant Director Linda Barnes; her position taken over by Jennifer Jareau temporarily.
Emily Prentiss was born on October 12, 1970, at 7:12 a.m. Due to her mother's diplomatic background, Prentiss traveled a lot when she was a child, living in several Middle Eastern countries and at one point in Rome. In "Demonology", she reveals that from wanting to fit in, she became pregnant as a teenager in Rome. When she went to talk to her priest, he said that if she got an abortion, she would not be welcome in the church. Her friend Matthew Benton encouraged her to go to an abortion clinic, and after the abortion, he helped her find the courage to come back to church. In "Tabula Rasa", Garcia reveals that Prentiss graduated from Garfield High School in 1989 and that she was a goth at the time.
In her first appearance, she recognizes Hotch from one of his first commands: security clearances for her mother, Elizabeth Prentiss, a U.S. diplomat. Her arrival surprises both Hotch and Gideon, as neither of them had signed off on the transfer. Prentiss insists her parents have not pulled strings for her. Ultimately, she joins the team at the end of "The Last Word" on a probationary basis as a replacement for Agent Elle Greenaway.
She is a graduate of Chesapeake Bay University, where she earned her B.A. in Criminal Justice ("Annihilator") and the University of Yale and has been working for the FBI for a little under ten years, primarily in the Midwest. Due to spending her early life with her parents on diplomatic missions to the Middle East, she speaks fluent Arabic and is familiar with that area's local culture. She also speaks fluent Spanish, French, Italian, and some Russian. She appears skilled at chess, and it is possible that she is better at the game than Reid. JJ once asked Prentiss how she could handle the stress from being with the BAU, especially since her last position was a desk job. Hotch concurred that she had "never blinked," and Prentiss could only reason that she "compartmentalizes better than most" ("Revelations"). After a bad date in the following episode, she admits to Morgan that she is a "nerd," despite how much she tries to hide it. For this reason, she hasn't had much success romantically. She discovers that she and Morgan share similar tastes in books when they begin discussing Kurt Vonnegut, particularly Slaughterhouse 5.
Prentiss is very level-headed and calm, sometimes it could be said that she seems to be dealing with the cases in an even more professional manner than some other members of the BAU. However, on a few occasions, like Elle before her, Prentiss lets her own emotions get the better of her. She has been shown to react emotionally at the crime scenes and feels a strong surge of empathy for the victims. She also appears highly intelligent and driven. Prentiss is willing to put herself at risk to protect others and has a very sarcastic sense of humor.
On the Job
At the end of Season Two, BAU Section Chief Erin Strauss reveals to Prentiss that she arranged for her to join the BAU, contrary to Prentiss's belief that she was accepted on her own merit. Strauss asks Prentiss to sabotage Hotch's career by spying on him and relaying confidences back to Strauss, especially concerning Elle Greenaway's shooting of a suspect and Reid's struggle with Dilaudid. She seems to consider this offer, and the season ends with a cliffhanger until the second episode of Season Three, in which she resigns from the FBI to avoid betraying Hotch. She decided later not to resign.
Prentiss has previously told Hotch in "Sex, Birth, Death" that she thinks politics "makes people distrustful, hate themselves, tear families apart and damage people," implying that her home life as a child was not pleasant, due to her mother's job. After some convincing from Hotch, she returns to the team in the next episode, her resignation having never gone through the system due to technical interference from Garcia, and the issue has not been brought up since. Upon her return, Section Chief Strauss remarks that neither Prentiss, Hotch, nor the rest of the team would be able to climb the ladder to the top because of all this, thus putting an end to some of Prentiss's future ambitions.
Also, in "3rd Life", she implies to Hotch that when she was an adolescent, she smoked and dressed inappropriately as a way to rebel against her parents.
In "Tabula Rasa", a high school photo reveals that Emily was a goth.
In the episode "Minimal Loss", she and Reid are held hostage by a religious cult. When the cult leader finds out that one of them is an FBI agent, Prentiss admits her identity, partially to protect Reid, and ends up getting beaten by the leader. Prentiss antagonizes the leader by twice repeating "I can take it" to keep the rest of the team from coming in, knowing that they are listening via bugs and that it would put everyone inside of the building in danger. Later, Prentiss reassures Reid that it was not his fault and asks him not to feel guilty.
In "The Slave of Duty," Prentiss became repeatedly disturbed by how the victims were forced to live their final moments in fear and insecurity by the unsub. She personally kicked him to the ground and as she puts her gun to his head, she tells him that when an inmate tries to have his way with him, just play along, as he forced his victims to do.
In "Retaliation", Prentiss is in a car accident while transporting a prisoner to the local police station. Despite sustaining severe injuries, Prentiss manages to escape the police cruiser via the windshield and fire on the fleeing suspects as they escape. Morgan finds Prentiss on the roadside and she is taken to the hospital where she is treated for a concussion and several cuts and contusions. She insists on quickly returning to the job and plays an instrumental role in solving the case.
In "Compromising Positions", she risks her life and is nearly killed while going undercover in order to dissuade a mentally-unstable unsub who is in the company of numerous bar patrons and employees, all in danger of being gunned down. When she accidentally gets one of the unsub's facts wrong, he is provoked into shooting her, but she shoots him first, firing her pistol hidden in a purse. Prentiss then watches as he dies.
In "The Thirteenth Step", Prentiss learns from a former colleague at Interpol, Sean McAllister, that Ian Doyle, an apparently highly dangerous criminal, has escaped from his North Korean prison and gone off the grid and apparently killed a man and stole his car. Sean warned her that he might come after her and that everyone is in danger.
At the beginning of "Sense Memory", in her apartment, when the phone rings and the caller ID is unknown, Prentiss lets it go to message and listens to the recording. The caller, presumably Doyle, is completely silent and hangs up. In response, Prentiss sets up some noise-traps near all entrances and exits in the apartment, sits down in the hallway with a gun, turns off the lights, and waits.
When Prentiss returns to her apartment after a case, she finds a package by her door. When she opens the package, it turns out to contain a small, purple-white flower. There is a flashback to some time earlier when she is working in a flowerbed filled with the same flowers, apparently by a mansion somewhere in France. When authorities, presumably Interpol, arrive and drive away with her, Doyle watches her from a balcony. He calls someone and tells the other person to "stay on on top of [it]". As he is arrested by English-speaking authorities, he looks down at one of the flowers that Prentiss dropped.
In "Coda", Doyle resurfaced in D.C., confronting Prentiss and warning her that he will seek revenge on her soon before leaving. Soon after in "Valhalla", he began killing people connected to his case as well as their families. During the investigation, he kills one of Prentiss's former colleagues, Tsia Mosely. It is also revealed that Prentiss, Sean, Tsia, and two other colleagues were part of a team assembled by Interpol that profiled terrorists and helped apprehend them, codenamed JTF-12.
In "Lauren", Prentiss goes after him alone. As she attacks him and his men near The Black Shamrock, a bar in Boston at which he and Prentiss (as "Lauren Reynolds") first met. As she holds a submachine gun at his men, he flanks her and shoots her in the abdomen. She survives, wearing a bulletproof vest, and is abducted and taken to the group's HQ. She is tortured and beaten as Doyle recounts what happened after his arrest: he was taken to a prison in North Korea, where he resisted in interrogation for two years, hoping to see his son, Declan, again. When he was shown a series of pictures of Declan and his legal guardian being executed by a mostly unseen figure, he broke down completely and would remain there for another five years. Unbeknownst to him, the pictures were actually staged by Prentiss in order to save Declan from his father's life. The BAU , having found the photos, notices that the nails of the hand holding the gun are completely bitten down; Prentiss was a compulsive nail biter when nervous. Obtaining the address of the house, they conduct a stealth raid on it, killing all of Doyle's men. As Doyle, furious to learn how he was deceived by Prentiss, begins furiously beating her. She gets the upper hand and knocks him to the floor with a wooden stick. Once she drops it, Doyle grabs it and stabs it into her abdomen. Hearing the gunfire approach, he escapes and isn't seen for the rest of the episode. The BAU arrive and take Prentiss to a hospital, where they are told that she didn't survive. They all attend Prentiss' funeral. Her headstone is marked "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity", the motto of the FBI. In the final scene, JJ is seen approaching a woman (whose face is unseen) in France and giving her passports for three different countries and a bank account in each one. The woman's hands are shown to the viewers to have completely bitten-down nails, implying that it is Prentiss, who is alive and has faked her own death in order to go into hiding from Doyle, thus protecting the rest of the BAU team from him. The rest of the team missed her dearly and struggled to cope with the loss for the remainder of the season.
In "It Takes a Village", she reunites with the team when they are forced to team up with Doyle in an effort to save Declan from a trio of international criminals seeking revenge on Doyle. Although they are successful in saving Declan, Doyle is shot and mortally wounded by the trio's leader, dying as Prentiss watches in shock.
In "Proof", Prentiss and JJ received the cold shoulder from Reid because he was not informed that she was still alive after Doyle supposedly "killed" her, viewing that as betrayal. She eventually made amends with Reid, telling him that she regretted every moment of not letting him know but that it was necessary in order to protect herself and more importantly, the team. She reminds him that while he lost one friend, she lost six. Reid forgave her and they became friends again.
In "Unknown Subject", Prentiss started to deal with her traumatic experience caused by Doyle. This is particularly evidenced by her personal connection with Regina Lampert, a victim of a serial rapist whom she later abducts, tortures, and tries to kill in revenge.
In "A Thin Line", Prentiss is shot in the arm by the unsub. She is temporarily injured and forced to wear a sling. Morgan feels guilty that Prentiss was again hurt on his watch and tries to apologize to Prentiss. After gently teasing him, Prentiss tells Morgan that what happened to her was not his fault, it was just part of the job.
In "Divining Rod", Prentiss places a sealed bid on a house in the upscale DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. When her bid is accepted, Prentiss seems reluctant to go forward with the purchase.
At the beginning of "Hit", Morgan joins Prentiss on an inspection of the DuPont Circle house. She shares with Morgan her doubts about going through with purchasing a home. When the team is called in to work a bank robbery and hostage situation, Clyde Easter contacts Prentiss to help identify one of the robbers, an international criminal. Clyde also offers her a position at Interpol, as chief of the London office. She appears to consider the offer.
In "Run", Prentiss risks her life to defuse a bomb attached to William LaMontagne, Jr. At JJ and Will's wedding, Prentiss confesses to Morgan that she is unable to feel comfortable in her old life after her near-death encounter with Doyle and subsequent period of hiding. She admits that she is strongly considering Clyde's job offer. At JJ's reception, Prentiss is shown looking mournfully at the rest of the team before joining each of them to dance. It is implied that she will leave the team and accepted the job at Interpol.
In the Season Eight premiere "The Silencer", Morgan and Garcia come back from England, where Morgan was on temporary duty, after visiting Prentiss. They say she has settled in nicely.
She is possibly referenced in "Magnificent Light", when Morgan and Garcia discuss about a friend of the former's, who comes from England, and Garcia makes a comment that "[they] like England, remember?"
Prentiss was mentioned in "To Bear Witness", when Garcia reveals that she had to ask her for assistance in finding any potential past victims of an unsub who performs lobotomy on his victims; this led to the discovery of a victim in Berlin, Germany.
It is revealed that after Blake's departure from the BAU, Hotch had tried reenlisting Prentiss to the position, but she declined.
Prentiss reappears in "Tribute", when she enlists the help of the BAU in catching an international copycat serial killer. She had become personally involved in the case since 2015, when the unsub began killing London prostitutes in an emulation of Jack the Ripper; her efforts to apprehend him failed and resulted in the death of an undercover police officer, Detective Inspector Louise Hulland. It is revealed that she has been in a relationship with a man named Mark for some time. She is also having recurring nightmares about Louise's death, which she had personally witnessed. Prentiss eventually gets closure in the case when she and the rest of the BAU corner the unsub, who she shoots and kills.
When Hotch had to leave on temporary assignment in "Taboo", Prentiss volunteered to rejoin the BAU during his absence. A few weeks later, during "Elliott's Pond", it is revealed that Hotch, in reality, had resigned from the FBI and gone into witness protection with his son Jack to avoid escaped serial killer by proxy Peter Lewis, who had been actively stalking Jack. He had also named Prentiss his successor as BAU Unit Chief.
In "Flesh and Blood" they have their first date. The date is in her apartment and when Andrew arrives, he finds Emily cooking and with comfortable clothes. The cooking doesn't result, so they order a pizza. The evening is interrupted by a case. When the case is over, she asks Andrew for breakfast in her apartment. Although she has cooked to prove she's not a terrible cook, they kiss and let the food for later.
In "Rusty" is revealed that she mantains a long-distance relationship with Andrew Mendoza. They have struggled with the relationship, but Andrew wants to make it work while Emily keeps creating barriers between them. In the end, he is having dinner with his daughter Keely and Emily shows up in his place. They make emends and Keely and Emily first meet.
In "Family Tree", Prentiss is shortlisted to be the next FBI Director.
- Prentiss was named after a great friend and fellow coworker of Criminal Minds' advisor, Jim Clemente, who wrote her first episode working full-time with the BAU, "Lessons Learned."
- Her sidearm was a Glock 19.
- She speaks Spanish ("Catching Out," "A Rite of Passage," "A Thin Line"), Arabic ("Lessons Learned"), French (Lauren), and Italian ("Demonology") fluently; her Russian, to her admittance, is "not very good" ("Honor Among Thieves").
- She also has at least some basic knowledge of more Eastern European languages, like Romanian ("Bloodline").
- Her transfer to the BAU was not known to Hotch, and he was caught off guard when she reported for duty.
- Her first case was in the episode "Lessons Learned", where she helped to interrogate Jamal Abaza behind the scenes.
- According to Reid, she was born on October 12 at 7:12 a.m. ("Cold Comfort"). He is, however, cut off by Prentiss before he can say the year. "[N]ineteen-se-" can only be heard by viewers.
- Garcia says that Prentiss graduated from Garfield High School in 1989 ("Tabula Rasa"). This places her birth year anywhere from 1970 to 1972. Due to her birthday being October, she was likely born in 1972.
- During her funeral, her tombstone can be seen. The date of birth listed on the tombstone is October 12, 1970. ("Lauren")
- Garcia says that Prentiss graduated from Garfield High School in 1989 ("Tabula Rasa"). This places her birth year anywhere from 1970 to 1972. Due to her birthday being October, she was likely born in 1972.
- At the age of fifteen, she was impregnated (the father being implied as childhood friend John Cooley) and had an abortion in Italy ("Demonology").
- Her mother is an ambassador and she spent her childhood traveling all over the world.
- She lived in an expensive Georgetown apartment while in college and "was determined to make it", so she worked as a waitress on the weekends, but she sucked at her job and accepted her mother's money to pay for it; both pretended that it wasn't even happening. ("The Performer").
- Has a black cat named Sergio that appeared in "Sense Memory". After her "death", Garcia took care of him until Prentiss returned in "It Takes a Village." Prentiss would later use Sergio as an excuse to her psychiatrist that she is recovering, stating that she dates him. When she leaves to London Garcia keeps him.
- Prentiss has two tattoos which Ian Doyle asks her about before he brands her with a clover. ("Lauren")
- JJ, Reid, and Garcia are the few to call Prentiss by her first name, Emily. The others just call her Prentiss, though Morgan called her Emily a few times.
- She mentioned she quit caffeine to help her relax more. ("Dorado Falls")
- After Morgan had mentioned Prentiss had to live in Reston, Virginia for a while, Garcia confirmed that she had rented a big house in a cul-de-sac there before they met her to be closer to Declan. Later Ian Doyle also confirmed that she likes cul-de-sacs. ("It Takes a Village")
- She once dated a golfer who owned a total of twelve putters. ("From Childhood's Hour")
- Her grandfather retired to the French Alps mountains and lived there until he died. There was a 10-year stretch where he didn't come down off the mountain. He had no electricity, no running water, and his food supplies came from the land. Emily spent time with him whenever she and her mother were in France, which was often. ("Open Season")
- When feeling disillusioned and/or frustrated about a case, she likes to go to the shooting range ("Tribute," "Profiling 202").
- Prentiss is revealed to be a terrible cook on occasion. ("Flesh and Blood")
- Prentiss has left and rejoined the BAU twice, a record for a main character in this show.
- For the first time, she temporarily had to go into hiding from Ian Doyle in Season Six, but rejoined the team in Season Seven after Doyle's death.
- For the second time, she accepted a position in Interpol at the end of Season Seven because she was unable to work with the BAU anymore (due to the complicated events with Doyle). She unofficially rejoined in Season Twelve to assist the manhunts of several escaped serial killers, then officially took up the Unit Chief position after Hotch resigned due to his son being stalked by one of the BAU's targets.
- Additionally, she and the BAU twice joined forces on a case during her time at Interpol. The first was when JJ and Section Chief Mateo Cruz were abducted in Season Nine, and the second was when an international serial killer she was tracking became active in the United States in Season Eleven.